Tuesday 28 December 2010

Professional Formatting

Professional Formatting
There is a standard, acceptable way of formatting work. Advice is given about this in the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbooks. It is relatively easy to get right. At Bridge House and The Red Telephone we spell it out.
Not that we ever reject people because they format incorrectly. However, it is noteworthy that many of our “maybe” texts are poorly formatted and at this point those that are correctly formatted tend to be put ahead of those that are not. It is certainly the case that the writer who has not followed the industry standard will also be less experienced in their writing and less able to handle and react positively to editorial comment.
It can be tedious, getting this right, but a professional will take the time to do so. Occasionally we may need to use something slightly different if layout and general appearance are important. However, even in the latter case it’s a good idea to submit a conventionally formatted text alongside the visual version.
Here is what I suggest:
Formatting Fiction
It is normal practice, when submitting fiction for publication, to double space work. It is also normal to start the first paragraph “full out” i.e. right up to the margin. Notice also that we generally use “ragged right”. Rumour has it that this is to enable hard-pressed London-based editors to keep their place when they read in bed or on the Tube.
         Second and subsequent paragraphs are indented. Note that you do not double double-space. This and what is described above are not Word defaults but can easily be set up in Word. Use the Paragraph function.
Note also that publishers prefer standard fonts. The two most widely accepted are Times New Roman 12 and Arial 10.
      It is also helpful to include your title and your name on each page. It is also useful to include a page number and an indication of the number of pages. Again, this is very easy to set up, using the Header and Footer functions in Word – found under View in older versions and under Insert in the 2010 version.
     Come on folks, get it right. It’s easy if you try.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Take Care about Who You’re Calling Careless

As a publisher who is also a writer and a creative writing teacher, I do often find myself reading a book published by a big, respected house and thinking to myself What the heck was the editor thinking? I also review books and recently refused to write a review as I had been given an uncorrected proof and in my mind this book was not ready to go: an important plot point had been edited out and the writer had talked of “coals” from a wood fire! What was the editor thinking?
Yet as a writer I think “Woah!” when I read a reviewer of my own work mention in an otherwise friendly review that one more edit would have benefited the work. The clever reviewer had found a couple of avoidable mistakes. Now, that particular work had had eighteen edits by myself, two general edits by readers and two copy-edits. Something similar has been done to its sequel and now as I put the finishing touches to a final (?) edit after the feed-back from the second copy-editor, I find a few more mistakes that no-one had noticed. In fact the first copy-editor prides herself on finding, on average, fifteen typos and at least a couple of punctuation mistakes in every published book she reads. And that’s without trying. If she actually did another copy-edit…
I’ve recently looked at a piece of academic work. A colleague second-marked it and said that the writer should have edited it once more. Though I agreed with my colleague about the types of style weaknesses, the poor expression in places and the common typos and punctuation problems, I disagreed that we can make any judgement about how conscientious or not a student has been. Only they can know that.
The types of mistakes that occur despite the extreme care of everyone involved are a nuisance. Some may make your eyebrows rise. But never, ever do we have the right to judge about the efficiency of or the intention behind another’s editing process. Possibly where mistakes still exist it’s a matter of editing smarter, not more.